Saturday, 10 December 2011

Water chickens revisited

Two generations of moorhens on the millstream
Almost exactly a year ago we blogged about our resident moorhens [gallinula cloropus]. At the time we had not realised the two adults had a very young juvenile with them, probably the one we had seen as a fluffball in September. We nicknamed this youngster "yellownose" as it had not yet developed a frontal plate (the red bit) and the unadorned beak is yellow. Throughout the winter we observed Yellownose and / or its parents plodding cautiously up the bank of the millstream to the area beneath the feeders where they had learned there would be stray seeds and scraps of fat. As the adult characteristics began to develop, Yellownose grew into Pinknose and then a fully grown adult with a shiny red frontal plate, but still slightly browner than its parents. In April there was a series of fights over the territory between the bridge and the walnut tree. Pinknose won by two submissions and we assumed that it was a him when it started building a nest platform by carefully folding down the young leaves in the middle of the flag iris patch.

That shows you how little we knew about a bird we saw every day from our kitchen window. A second bird appeared, with a more prominent frontal plate. This bird always greets Pinknose by fanning out his tail - it was Pinknose that was the female. By May, Pinknose was sitting on the nest, almost completely hidden among the iris. 

Spot the moorhen

We saw the pair throughout the summer, less regularly since more cautious, with three fluffballs, and now they have a Yellownose and a Pinknose of their own. Once again, moorhens en famille are visiting our bird feeders. Every day and often at night we hear their clucking calls and panicked splashing.
Dad and Pinknose Junior

What big feet! Note the lack of a web

Youngster amid what remains of the iris
Which leads us to another odd thing - the local bird guide, Les oiseaux du bassin de la Claise tourangelle, shows both the gallinule poule-d'eau and the râle d'eau (water rail) as resident from mid-February to mid-December and absent the rest of the time. Where are they supposed to go over Christmas? It's nice to think of the moorhens of southern Touraine taking a mediterranean cruise to visit their cousins the Purple Gallinules in the s'Albufera reserve on the island of Majorca. In the far north (Siberia for instance), Moorhens do migrate to avoid a deep-frozen winter. Possibly, in our region, the ones that hold territories on the étangs will move to running water which will not freeze over in hard weather. We certainly see more pairs along the millstream at this time of year. Or possibly the authors of our local guide copied it from someone who had it from someone else that moorhens migrate...

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